Teaching for Understanding at University: Deep Approaches and Distinctive Ways of Thinking

October 15, 2009

I really liked this book. Viewed from the perspective of a lecturer looking to use it for reference when embarking on another academic year with a full teaching timetable, it is extremely well laid out and well structured. As a "teacher" in a university, it seems to me that the sequence of chapters and the headings within them are presented in a most logical manner for the subject matter at hand.

The book's structure pretty much echoes the way you would approach teaching. First, you would want to know about how students learn, then about what they learn. After this, you would move on to how you would go about teaching them, and how you would keep up to date with your teaching through research. Following this, you would need to know how best to support your students, particularly through the assignments and assessments you have set them. Last, you will want to know if you're doing it right, and this is where monitoring comes in. All this is covered in appropriate detail, with fitting levels of practicalities and references for the reader.

I fully agree with Entwistle's main argument that all subjects have their own logic and pedagogy. He not only explains how teaching and learning differ - why they are not the same yet not mutually exclusive - but he also considers why teaching and lecturing are not the same and offers some very pertinent examples of students' personal experiences in this area. This is something that is important to recognise, not least because of the expectations of new undergraduates coming from a school or college environment. What they have experienced and what they think of as "teaching" is something they may expect to continue at university, whereas what they mostly get is "lectures". This issue is well covered here, with a constructive section contrasting a number of approaches to teaching. Consequently, the book goes a long way towards dispelling the myths surrounding teaching and learning in universities.

In addition, Teaching for Understanding at University relies quite heavily on educational research into teaching and learning that supports the ideas and notions expressed in the book. This enables the reader to better understand the role of such research in university teaching and learning. The research-informed teaching that is discussed throughout the book greatly adds to its usefulness for university lecturers, as they can clearly see, for each topic covered, how research has led to the ideas in this area, and how it has helped teaching and learning to progress. Hopefully, it will encourage university teachers to pursue their own lines of research to improve their own teaching.

Entwistle's use of the personal voice adds an unusual and welcome dimension. Readers will particularly like the individual touches offered by "bridging passages", and for each section in the book - including those bridging passages - there are useful and appropriate references that provide valuable ideas for further reading. There are also concluding summaries for each chapter that offer the reader a helpful overview of what has just been covered, providing a convenient way to check where to go next with that topic.

This is a refreshing and engaging book from which both new and experienced university lecturers and teachers will greatly benefit.

Teaching for Understanding at University: Deep Approaches and Distinctive Ways of Thinking.

By Noel Entwistle. Palgrave Macmillan. 224pp, £55.00 and £19.99. ISBN 9780230593855 and 333962985. Published 23 July 2009

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